ALTON — For the eighth straight season the Marquette Catholic Explorers will be playing for a Class 1A regional championship.
On Tuesday the Explorers blasted the Metro East Lutheran Knights 9-0 in the 1A Marquette Regional semifinals at Gordon Moore Park. The Roxana Shells earned a date with Marquette at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the regional title tilt, after dismissing Father McGivney 7-0 in the late regional semifinal match Tuesday.
The Explorers ran their record to 10-9-3 with Tuesday's win, while MELHS ended its season at 2-13. The Knights had won two straight games entering Tuesday.
The lopsided result against Metro comes following a grueling regular season schedule for Marquette. It's one that's left the Explorers scrambling to get healthy. On Tuesday they were without key players Laura Schmickley, Annabelle Copeland and Ketoura Ngwa. Head coach Steve Mitchell looks to ease Copeland and Ngwa back in Friday, while Schmickley's return could possibly come if they advance to the sectional round of the playoffs. Schmickley has been sidelined since early in the season.
“We play such a tough schedule so I told the kids starting today it's a rerack,” Mitchell said. “The records go out the window and the competition at 1A is a little different than 3A. They have to understand. They were hanging their head a little bit because they were getting beat up by some of the bigger schools.
“We're dealing with some injuries, but we came in her today played the ball out wide and were knocking it around good and everybody was going to the goal. It looks good, but playoffs it's one game at a time. I told the kids, 'Even though you won 9-0, Friday is a different game.' I was totally happy today, but Friday will be a different team we play.”
It took Marquette little time to get the offense percolating against the Knights.
Senior Adriana Schindler got the Explorers on the board in the third minute. She was making a crossing pass toward the goal, but the ball carried and found the back of the net to make it 1-0. Junior Claire Dalton was credited with the assist.
“I was trying to cross it and it kind of came off the outside of my foot and went toward the goal,” Schindler said. “That got us up and hyped.
“No matter who it is you have to come out hard. Every game hard for the first 10 (minutes). You come in knowing you've beat them, but you can't let down at all. You have to stay on top the whole time.”
Marquette and Metro had previously met on April 28 with the Explorers prevailing 7-0. MELHS head coach Noah Enke knew the challenge facing his team, but he knew they had nothing to lose.
“You know it's going to be tough, but what do you do with a very inexperienced squad,” Enke said. “We had some success here in the postseason and went on our two-game winning streak and that felt good, but how do you prepare for a team like Marquette? They're ready for everything. It's difficult at times and today they were just the better team.”
Marquette continued to pepper the Knights, scoring four more times in the first half to build a 5-0 advantage entering the break. The Explorers outshot MELHS 19-0 in the first half and 30-0 overall. They also won the corner battle 9-0 in the game, including 7-0 in the first half.
Elisa Senno scored in the 23rd minute, finishing strong after a nice touch pass from Dalton. In the 26th minute Bailey Hartrich scored, pounding in the rebound after Natalie Brown's shot clanged off the crossbar.
Taylor Aguirre scored in the 36th minute, scoring from just outside the box on an unassisted shot to make it 4-0 and within a minute Lauren Walsh made it 5-0 tapping in a rebound off of Maggie Roche's shot.
“Their formation is great, their passing is great, their shots even when they're not shots go in, so what do you do?” Enke said. “You just do the best you can against them and hopefully your heads can stay in the right place and I feel that's where we fell down the most is we just gave up.”
Marquette tacked on four more goals in the second half, coming from: Schindler, Senno, Annie Tassinari and Brown. Rachel Grimaud picked up an assist in the second half, too.
It's just one game at a time and continuing to get healthy for the Explorers. Mitchell hopes Friday can be another step in the right direction.
“This let some other kids play and the big thing with our team is it lets them know that we can score without (Copeland and Schmickley),” Mitchell said. “Our last three games we played Rochester, Granite City and Belleville East without (Copeland, Schmickley and Ngwa) and we just got beat up. Without those kids, the others were starting to hang their heads, so to do this we proved we can do it without those three, so it is a good thing in my opinion.”
MELHS now says goodbye to four seniors: captains Abby Yurchuk and Hannah Landers, along with Taylor Guilbeault and Ashley Sola. The Knights won their first postseason game since 2013 with Saturday's 3-0 victory over East Alton-Wood River.